Current Election More Revealing Of Character Than Policy.

There was a time when the debate between candidates and their supporters revolved around issues such as defense spending, tax policy, safety nets, federal deficits and debt. No longer. This election cycle has revolved around character – not just the character of candidates. But that of their supporters.

Here’s a case in point: Someone I know has been agonizing over a health crisis his wife is facing. Yet when he told a long-time friend and Trump supporter, the friend chose to use the situation to score political points by attacking Obamacare. Seriously? In fact, the wife would not be alive today without Obamacare. But his friend failed to consider that. So, instead of displaying a shred of sympathy or humanity, the friend chose to try to score political points!

As bad as that may seem, the example is far from unique.

Emboldened by Trump, people I’ve long known and cared about have made horribly racist statements. I’ve seen them reflexively attack Trump’s victims of sexual assault without knowing the women or the circumstances. I’ve heard them call for the exclusion of Muslims from the US and the deportation of Mexicans. I’ve heard them say that Hillary should be locked up even though they have not taken the time to examine the facts of her supposed transgressions. I’ve seen them repeat vicious, false and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories despite all the evidence to the contrary. I’ve heard them say that they admire how Trump “tells it like it is” even though independent fact-checking organizations have concluded that a vast majority of his statements are false.

I’ve seen these people support a candidate who has bragged about refusing to pay suppliers; who has filed hundreds of frivolous lawsuits out of spite; who calls himself smart for evading taxes; who has encouraged violence; who has embraced the endorsement of the KKK, who has supported the torture of our enemies; who has called for the murder of combatants’ families; and who has stated that our democratic process is rigged so he may be unwilling to accept the outcome of the election. He has even suggested that the only remedy for his defeat is for his supporters to “exercise their second amendment rights.”

Any one of these things would be disqualifying for someone seeking to become a third world dictator, let alone for a candidate for President of the United States.

But what about his supporters – those who have helped Trump attain the nomination of a once-great party? How should we view them? Is it possible to remain friends with those who have revealed themselves to be of such questionable character? Personally, I don’t think so.

I can be friends with those who disagree with me on policy. Indeed, I encourage it. I learn little when I’m surrounded by like-minded people – they simply reinforce the views I already have. I thrive on debate – thoughtful, insightful and sometimes impassioned debate on issues that are supported by facts. But I do not care to engage in relationships with those who hold racist beliefs; those who would deny civil rights to others; those who choose hatred and meanness over respect and kindness; those who would deny aid to families in need; those who place partisanship over country; those who choose unsubstantiated lies over truth; those who care so little for the circumstances and feelings of others that they no longer understand what it means to be human.

In this regard, the 2016 election has done us all a great favor. It has helped us know our families, friends and acquaintances as never before.

Another Day. Another Police Shooting.

The current unrest in Charlotte as a result of yet another police shooting should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all metropolitan police departments. It’s only the latest in a long line of black men – many of them unarmed – who were shot and killed by police. The Charlotte shooting may well have been a justified shooting (it’s too early to make judgments). But that doesn’t mean that the unrest and rioting in Charlotte are unjustified.

After all, how many studies and investigations have uncovered disparities between the police treatment of whites and blacks? How many police departments have been exposed for racial profiling? How many studies have shown that the causes of crimes are economic rather than racial? How many studies have shown an enormous disparity in wealth and compensation between whites and blacks?

At least fifteen black people have been shot and killed by police – some of them with their hands raised – just since Colin Kaepernick called attention to the issue by refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Yet Kaepernick was vilified by some in the police, the military, and the media. And the Charlotte unrest, following the shootings in Dallas, the unrest in Ferguson and the formation of Black Lives Matter, has caused the clueless and the racist to believe that black people are lawless and get what they deserve.

So here’s my question to these people. Just how long should minorities put up with unequal treatment?

Blacks have already suffered through slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression, segregation, redlining, discrimination, fewer educational opportunities, and lower wages. They were subjected to lynchings and bombings to gain their civil rights. They have put up with white flight leaving them to pay a disproportionate share of taxes while living in the hollowed out core of cities. They have been targeted for “stop & frisk”. Many of their families were torn apart as a result of disproportionate law enforcement for drug use. And almost all of them have been unlawfully detained for “driving while black”.

So I repeat the question: How much longer should minorities put up with inequality?

The unrest in Charlotte may not be justified by the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. But it is nonetheless justified. Now, I’m certainly not advocating race riots – far from it. But it’s long past time for governments at all levels of our society to take action against racial inequities; to put some teeth into discrimination laws; to reform policing; to root out racist police officers. And it’s time for white people to stop blaming the messengers like Colin Kaepernick and to look at the message itself; to empathize with the people who are subjected to injustice. If demonstrating in the streets causes others to take notice, great!

Put into perspective, minorities in the US have been extraordinarily patient with the status quo. But their patience is obviously running out. It should.

Black Lives Matter! A Primer For White People.

When it became evident that an increasing number of black people were being killed by police despite being unarmed and often innocent, some activists formed Black Lives Matter. Given the obvious nature of their complaints, it’s unlikely that the founders thought the organization would be seen as particularly controversial. Yet many white people seemed to miss the point or, more likely, willfully ignored it. In response, they proclaimed that all lives matter.

Of course all lives matter! So do white lives and blue (police) lives. But such statements ignore the issue. The BLM organizers weren’t saying that black lives matter more than others. After reeling from police killings of unarmed black people: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland – the list is depressingly long – the activists were simply saying that black lives should matter as much as others! But the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people, black children, black people with their hands up in a clear sign of surrender, and black people in police custody clearly demonstrated to them that many police seem to assign a lesser value to black lives.

What the activists were really saying is that black lives matter, too! And the reason they took offense at the responses of All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter is that those slogans entirely ignored the issue. They showed a lack of empathy and understanding of racism, even if the responses are well-intended.

Even when the Department of Justice (DOJ) released its scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, many Americans failed to get the point. They again showed a lack of understanding when the DOJ released an equally scathing report on policing in Baltimore. Even as the officers who killed unarmed black people continued to escape charges or were acquitted for their actions, many white Americans either ignored the developments or chose to demonize the members of Black Lives Matter as engaging in reverse racism. We continue to see signs and chants of Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.

The backlash reached a crescendo when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem prior to a NFL exhibition game (an anthem which, by the way, was written by a slave-owner and includes racist text in its second verse). Kaepernick was quickly dismissed as un-American and many accused him of disrespecting veterans who fought for our country. Of course, he was doing neither. He was exercising his First Amendment right to call attention to the disparity in policing of blacks and whites. In doing so, he was trying to improve the country; to make it live up to its promise for all Americans.

Here’s the thing: Until the police, the white supremacists and the clueless supporters of Donald Trump pull their heads out of their collective behinds, the BLM movement will grow.

What will it take to make Black Lives Matter end the demonstrations? That’s simple. The answer is for law enforcement officers and the justice system to end the unequal treatment of minorities. That will require higher standards and more intensive training for police. No more 16-week wonders who trade in their police academy books for guns. No more militarized police departments who treat policing as war. No more bullies with badges.

Police Chiefs must be tasked with identifying the bad apples within their departments and firing them. More important, the good police officers (and there are many of them) must end the practice of covering up for the racist and incompetent officers. Likewise, the police unions must hold their members accountable. When bad cops are allowed to continue to dispense street justice in a disproportionate way, everyone loses, including the good officers who place their lives on the line to ensure public safety for all of the people in their communities.

Finally, the state Attorneys General and the DOJ should track arrests and the penalties meted out in all communities across the nation. When they discover disparities they must hold the cities responsible to correct the issues or lose their state and federal funding.

No group of people should be allowed to think that their lives matter less than others. Black Lives Matter, too!

Ending Racism: A Proposal.

America has a problem with racism that we have not yet adequately addressed. Sure, we passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but those actions didn’t actually solve racism. Far from it. They merely altered it by making it somewhat less obvious and making it uncomfortable for racist white people to express their inner feelings.

Then along came Donald Trump and his attacks on political correctness, which freed racists to make public their long-held beliefs. In a way, such displays of overt racial hatred along with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem can be seen as a good thing by bringing the issue back to the forefront. And I would suggest that it’s long overdue.

The problem stems from the fact that the US stands virtually alone in refusing to acknowledge its ugly past. For example, after Germany was defeated in World War II, it was forced to deal with the reality that it had committed genocide. As a result, it created memorials to those who were killed in Nazi death camps. It created textbooks for children detailing the horrors and explaining Hitler’s rise to power. And it banned any positive references to Nazism. It even banned the sale of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Only recently has Germany again permitted the sale of the book, and only then if it includes notations regarding Nazi crimes.

Other nations have faced their ugly pasts is a similar manner. But the US refuses to do so. Our textbooks have been scrubbed of most references to the genocide of Native Americans. Likewise, they address slavery in a superficial, sanitized manner. And, instead of creating memorials to the victims of our genocide and to the victims of slavery, we have memorials to those who committed these vile acts. The former Confederate States of America have largely refused to acknowledge that their secession was motivated by their desire to continue the enslavement of blacks. Indeed, these states still celebrate the Confederacy, its leaders and, until recently, they still flew the Confederate battle flag.

There has been no restitution to the former slaves and their families. Indeed, the idea that they were given 40 acres and a mule is largely a myth. Lacking resources and possessions – and, in many cases, even a sense of family – following their emancipation many former slaves were employed by their former masters and corporations through a more acceptable form of economic slavery. As a result, today, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we are still plagued by racism. Our schools are even more segregated now than during the late 1960s. And it has been estimated that it will take 228 years for the average black family to accumulate the wealth of the average white family!

Obviously, we have a problem.

So how can we fix it? How can we level the playing field for the descendants of African slaves and the Native Americans who had their land, their way of life and their identities stolen by our ancestors? How can we restore the well-being of cultures that were so thoroughly defeated and depressed? The answers are far more complicated than most white Americans are likely willing to accept. But I’ll make the attempt.

The solution to racism must begin with our nation, like Germany, finally acknowledging our past transgressions. As any therapist can tell you, there can be no healing as long as there is denial. And since the lingering effects of those impacted by our past actions are largely economic, we must work to provide blacks and Native Americans with opportunities. We must improve their education systems, making certain that they have the same resources and school budgets as our most affluent white suburbs. For those working in low-paying jobs, we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We must finally commit to universal healthcare so that all families have equal access to prenatal and childhood healthcare. We must commit to universal pre-school which has been proven to level the playing field and create lasting change. We must make certain that all families have food stability and access to healthy foods, which have been shown to improve performance in schools. We must commit to rebuilding our infrastructure, offering high-paying jobs to those without college degrees.

We must require national standards and training for those in law enforcement to eliminate racism within police departments and to ensure that all citizens are treated equal. We must end predatory city and community laws that treat citizens as a source of income for minor violations. We must pass universal background checks for gun purchases and pass other safety measures to get guns out of the hands of criminals and off of our streets. We should decriminalize and regulate drugs in order to rid the streets of predatory drug dealers. We should treat addictions with treatment instead of prison time. For the 1 in 9 black men who have already been sentenced to prison – often for petty, non-violent crimes – we should commit to rehabilitation programs to help them integrate back into society when they are eventually released.

And, most important of all, we should commit to thoroughly investigating every single claim of racist behavior – especially racism committed by those in power.

All of that may seem expensive and daunting, but it is all necessary. There can be no shortcuts – no half measures. After all, our nation benefited greatly from the labor of slaves and the resources stolen from natives. The problem of racism in this country has existed for centuries. It cannot be fixed easily or quickly.

And, if you’re wondering how our nation can pay for all of these things, just look to the cost overruns on the Pentagon’s weapons systems, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter – a fighter that has exceeded its budget by tens of billions of dollars. Also, you should consider the cost to society of not addressing racism – the cost of incarceration, lost tax revenue and the lost contributions from those who have neither the education nor the opportunity to shine.

How The Party Of Lincoln Became The Party Of Trump.

When the Republican party replaced the Whigs with Abraham Lincoln at its helm, the party was determined to end slavery and hold the Union together through the strength of the federal government. Then, following the Civil War, the party committed itself to serving the interests of business. When workers began to fight for better pay and benefits, the party began to struggle. And when the stock market crashed leading to the Great Depression, Republican leadership was replaced by progressive Democrats who dictated policy for a generation through the New Deal and the Great Society.

When Democrats finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Republicans saw an opportunity. They reached out to the racist Dixiecrats of the South in hopes of turning them into Republicans. The strategy worked beyond their wildest dreams. By embracing the racists, the party turned the South a deep, deep red.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the issues of abortion and gay rights presented Republicans with another opportunity. They created the “Moral Majority” by reaching out to evangelicals. And, still harboring resentment from the Civil War, the southern coalition turned the federal government into the enemy claiming that the Constitution calls for limited government (it doesn’t). Ronald Reagan popularized the idea by stating, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

Finally, the party engineered the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which held the electronic media accountable for serving the public interest. That turned talk radio and cable TV new into little more than propaganda spewing extremist conservative ideologies.

The result is new coalition of pro-business, anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-abortion, racists who approach politics with a righteous zeal – certain that God is on their side. This is a group that is not only immune to scientific evidence, it is fact-free; a group of voters that have convinced themselves that any news stories that fail to fit with their strongly held beliefs are lies created by the “lamestream media.”

Enter Donald J. Trump, an ideologue who is willing to foment fear and pander to the worst aspects of human nature in order to get his way; a man who was able to manipulate the media to fulfill his every wish; a man who would have you believe that only he can solve your problems, and you have the GOP of today. His fate in the general election, as in the primaries, lies with the media. They helped create this monster. And only they can destroy it.

If not, I fear there may be no turning back.

We May Be Living In America’s Golden Age.

Contrary to what some politicians would have you believe, things in the world – and the US in particular – are not bleak. Indeed, a case can be made that things have never been better!

Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square on CNN pointed to statistics compiled by two Harvard professors. They show that, despite the events unfolding in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, worldwide, mass killings and genocides are near all-time lows. Violent crimes in the US have steadily declined since the 1990s. Incarceration is dropping. Victimization of children has dropped dramatically. Reported rape and sexual assaults in the US are near all-time lows. And, despite recent events, deaths of police are near an all-time low.

At the same time, Zakaria notes that the US economy is growing. The US emerged from the Great Recession better than any of the world’s other major economies. The US has produced more than 14 million jobs since 2009 – more than the 35 other advanced economies combined. US auto sales have climbed from 9.6 million in 2009 to 16.6 million last year. The US has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. US unemployment is now below 5 percent nationwide – a figure that is historically considered near full employment. Wages are gradually improving. Our tax burden is low compared to other advanced nations. Despite claims to the contrary, the overall tax burden of US corporations is among the lowest in the OCED (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). Inflation is low while stock markets are at record highs. And, contrary to the beliefs of some, since 2009, more Mexican migrants have left the US than have entered it.

That’s right, the net rate of immigration from Mexico is below ZERO!

Those are the facts. If you doubt them, ask yourself: In which time period would you rather be living? The 1700s when the country was being founded on the backs of slaves? The 1800s when the nation was torn apart by slavery and white immigrants were committing genocide of Native Americans? The early 1900s when many of our citizens, including children, were forced to work seven days a week in sweat shops? When women and blacks were denied the right to vote? When we were embroiled in WWI?

How about the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression? Or the 1940s when our men and women were dying on the battlefields of Africa, Asia and Europe? Would you rather be living in the 1950s when the top tax rate was 91 percent; when women were relegated to menial jobs and blacks were fighting (and dying) for the right to vote and to attend the same schools as whites; and when Americans were dying in Korea? Would you rather be living in the 1960s when we were fighting in Vietnam and at home over an ill-conceived war? Would you rather be living in the 1970s when both inflation and gas prices soared; when mortgage rates were as high as 25 percent, if you could qualify; and when women were routinely victimized in the workplace?

Would you rather be living in the 1980s when we were still engaged in the Cold War; when the national GDP fell; and when crime rates, incarceration rates and the national debt soared? Would you rather be living in the 1990s when incarceration rates continued to climb; when the economy rose out of the doldrums and when the federal government ran surpluses? Okay, I admit that might be a toss-up.

Would you rather be living in the early 2000s when we suffered the largest terrorist attack on our soil in history; when we invaded Afghanistan; when we invaded Iraq on false pretenses; when the government accumulated massive deficits and debt; and when the housing market caused the economy to implode?

Or would you rather be living now?

If you’re a white Christian male who has grown up believing that you are entitled to a life of privilege and power; if your media choices are Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and the like; or if you believe some of the lies told by politicians, you may want to return to a previous decade, or even a previous century. But, if you believe in science and facts; if you truly believe that all people are created equal regardless of race, religion or gender, you might just realize how lucky we are.

Certainly, there are many problems. Global climate change is a real and gathering threat. Our wilderness and oceans are being destroyed. Many species are being slaughtered. We must honestly face the problems of the past with regard to black slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. We must work to improve our policing and to lower incarceration rates. We must continue to improve Americans’ access to affordable health care. We must improve mental health care. We must find a way to get guns off of our streets. We must improve education and make it more affordable. We must rebuild our outdated and crumbling infrastructure. We must control greed and provide living wages to any who are willing to work full-time. We must find ways to create jobs to replace those that are being lost to robots and technology. We must strengthen our safety net programs for those less fortunate than ourselves. And we must rededicate ourselves to treat all people equally.

Nevertheless, all things considered, I choose to disregard the lies of politicians who portray our nation in crisis and the media who gleefully repeat their claims in search of higher ratings and profits. If not for the political divisiveness created by such people, we might all recognize how good we have it and that, if we choose to work together, things can be even better.

This is a golden age.

What The GOP Wants.

It’s easy to dismiss the mudslinging and hateful rhetoric of the speakers featured at the Republican National Convention as mere partisanship; as the typical hyperbole of a contested election. But the GOP platform shows that the fear and hate so prevalent at the convention is representative of the party’s deep-rooted beliefs.

On its surface, the GOP platform seems filled with platitudes and grandiose statements that may seem positive or, at worst, relatively harmless. But, if you look deeper, a different – more frightening – picture emerges.

The platform begins with a preamble that reaffirms the party’s commitment to the concept of “American Exceptionalism”… the very idea that led to the genocide of Native Americans, the meddling in foreign affairs, and the creation of “banana republics” as well as other puppet states that would be subservient to the US. And it further represents backward thinking by confusing the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation. (Yes, it’s true that our Founding Fathers originally committed to a limited federal government. But that was as a result of the differing beliefs of the original colonies, not the least of which was the colonies’ differing views toward slavery. But after the Revolution, the Founders wrote and ratified the Constitution which gives great, sweeping powers to the federal government.)

The platform only goes further downhill from there.

Despite our robust recovery from the Great Recession, the platform seeks to reinstate the very policies that led to the recession. It blames Democrats for the national debt despite the fact that the vast majority of the debt is the result of decisions made by the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. Indeed, both the Clinton and Obama administrations have dramatically cut deficits created by Republicans.

The GOP platform calls for increased defense spending, claiming the Obama administration has shortchanged the defense budget for years despite the fact that the US currently spends more on the military than the next 9 nations combined – 7 of them strong US allies. And it contends that the Obama administration has refused to control our borders despite dramatic increases in border patrols and the apprehension and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

It claims that Democrats have attacked the production of energy and industry-related jobs while ignoring the reality that oil and gas production are at all-time highs, and that alternative energy production (wind and solar) has created millions of jobs. At the same time, the GOP denies the impact of technical innovation on the number of lost manufacturing jobs and its own role in providing tax incentives to multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas and hide profits offshore to avoid taxes.

The platform officially denies human-caused climate change while pandering to voters in coal country by proclaiming coal to be a “clean” energy source. It calls for a commitment to the already discredited “fair tax” that, if implemented, would not only give enormous tax breaks to the top 1 percent. It would add trillions to our national debt. And the platform perpetuates the myth that US corporations face the world’s highest tax obligations when, in reality, the US is tied with Tanzania for 64th in total tax obligations! Moreover, the US corporate tax obligation is lower than 22 of 32 OCED nations.

In addition to Trump’s notorious plan to build a wall along our Mexican border, the GOP would seek to build a virtual wall between us and our trading partners by trying to implement a series of harsh tariffs and other forms of bullying. The GOP would have you believe that Wall Street and corporations can regulate themselves free from any form of regulation. (We already know how disastrous that can be.) The platform pushes individual responsibility while excusing multinational corporations from their actions. At the same time, it seeks to diminish civil rights and equal opportunities for much of our population. It would also deny individuals many of the legal mechanisms needed to fight against injustice and predatory corporations.

The GOP platform calls for investment in our nation’s infrastructure while ignoring the fact that the only reason for our decaying infrastructure is the refusal of the party’s own members of Congress to vote for such initiatives. Moreover, Republicans didn’t just vote against those bills, they blocked many of them from ever coming to a vote. In addition, the platform continues the party’s long-standing attack on labor unions – the very institutions that helped build the middle class as the only way for workers to negotiate with management. (In case you haven’t noticed, as labor unions have been diminished, CEO and shareholder compensation have soared while the compensation of workers has stagnated. At the same time, the GOP has orchestrated the destruction of thousands of pension plans.)

Even more telling is the platform’s focus on exclusion – by unconstitutionally closing our borders to Muslims, by deporting millions of Latino immigrants, by denying civil rights to the LGBTQ community, by unconstitutionally establishing Christianity as the official religion of the US, and by diminishing the rights of women. In practice, GOP policies would diminish the rights of all those who look and think differently than white, male Republicans.

The party platform enshrines the GOP’s unwavering support of the 2nd Amendment. Yet, at the same time it embraces those who own the weapons of war, the GOP turns its back on those who are most vulnerable: Women who find themselves pregnant with a baby they cannot afford, women who wish to terminate a fetus that either endangers the mother’s life or is incapable of ever surviving on its own, the hopelessly impoverished who, without help, cannot reasonably expect to escape poverty; whose schools are underfunded; who live in areas without jobs and without access to public transportation.

The platform reaffirms the party’s intent to stack the judiciary from top to bottom with ideologues like the late Antonin Scalia. It would sell off public lands, including national parks. It would eliminate many regulatory agencies. It would privatize education and anything else that would allow corporations to profit. It would repeal Obamacare and return control of health care to insurance and pharmaceutical companies that would make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. It seeks to privatize Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. It would eliminate or diminish many of our other safety nets, including job training and food assistance.

The GOP platform indicates that the party will continue its assault on voting rights and its commitment to gerrymandering to ensure a GOP majority that does not reflect the composition of the voting public. It foments fear of others and distrust of government institutions. It doesn’t just seek to change government. It goes much further, seeking to impose a narrow set of “values” – to dictate morality and human behavior.

It is, perhaps, the most ideological document ever authored in the name of a political party. And, if implemented, it will negatively impact our nation for generations to come if, indeed, it doesn’t lead to its ultimate destruction. (If you think that’s mere hyperbole, consider the potential impact of the unabated burning of fossil fuels and environmental destruction that will make our planet uninhabitable.)

Thoughts And Prayers Will Not Stop Shootings.

After Columbine, there were thoughts and prayers. There were more thoughts and prayers after Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando and, now, Dallas. After Eric Garner, after Michael Brown, after Timor Rice, after Ezell Ford, after John Crawford III, after Jonathon Ferrell, after Alton Sterling, after Philando Castile, and after the deaths of 5 Dallas police officers, there were more thoughts and prayers. Yet the shootings continue.

Obviously, thoughts and prayers alone aren’t working. They may make us feel better. But they do nothing to stop the shootings. And because the shootings continue to divide us, there will be many more thoughts and prayers.

What we need, instead, are common sense laws to improve gun safety. Ideally, that would mean banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and semi-automatic handguns. Unfortunately, that genie is out of the bottle. Even if we banned the sale of them tomorrow, there would still be millions in circulation. But what we can do is to repeal all open carry laws. Even in the Old West, open carry was banned in towns…in “polite society.” We can do that again.

We can pass laws for universal background checks on ALL gun sales to close the so-called “gun show loophole.” We can ban the sale of guns to those on the no-fly list until they can prove that they are not dangerous. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of domestic assault or are under restraining orders. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of any violent crimes. We can require gun safety training to those who have conceal and carry permits. And we can take the words of the Dallas Police Chief to heart and discourage people from carrying guns in public places.

We can, once again, ban silencers and large caliber sniper rifles…rifles so powerful that they can blow a sizeable hole in an engine block. We can ban large capacity magazines, except at gun ranges.

We can reinstate funding for the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence. And we can reinstate funding for services to help the mentally ill – one of the three largest groups of victims of gun violence.

We can increase budgets for police departments that will allow more training in the de-escalation of violent situations. We can make certain that our police know how to safely disarm those who are armed with weapons other than guns, such as clubs and knives. We can assess police officer candidates for personality traits so that we hire the best possible candidates and eliminate those who are racist or trigger happy. And since, we will demand more of the police, we can pay them appropriately.

There are many things we can do to help police and limit the number of senseless shootings. But, if we rely on thoughts and prayers alone, they are certain to continue.

How Has Racism Plagued The Obama Administration? Let Me Count The Ways:

I have conservative friends who deny that President Obama has been treated any differently than previous presidents. Setting aside the prolonged fishing expedition to find dirt on the Clintons and the natural reaction to a stolen election and the lies told by the Bush administration to justify its invasion of Iraq, (yes, I proudly wore an “Impeach Bush” button) let’s look at the conservative response to the nation’s first African-American president.

Even before he was nominated, Obama was beset by claims that he was not an American citizen. For the first time in US history, the political opposition demanded to see a presidential candidate’s birth certificate.

On the day of his inauguration, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, GOP leaders met to formulate a strategy to make him fail. At so-called Tea Party rallies, protestors carried racist images of Obama. They also showed up at presidential speeches armed with loaded guns and threatened to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.” At the same time, rednecks all over the South dug out their Confederate battle flags, planting them in their yards, on their houses and flying them in the back of their pickup trucks. Many covered their vehicles with stickers that read “NObama,” “One Big Ass Mistake America” and more blatantly racist slogans.

The Secret Service saw a dramatic increase in threats on the President’s life. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted a dramatic rise in hate groups. At the same time, rightwing radio hosts and the NRA claimed that Obama was “coming for your guns,” which, in turn, dramatically increased gun sales.

When Obama prepared a video to encourage students to work hard and stay in school (something that other presidents have routinely done), conservatives howled, claiming that Obama was going to “indoctrinate” their children. They also ridiculed the First Lady for encouraging students to move for fitness and to make more nutritious choices for meals.

When Obama first addressed a joint session of Congress, a racist congressman openly shouted “You Lie.” In another joint session, conservative Supreme Court justices visibly shook their heads in disgust at the President’s justifiable criticism of the Citizens United ruling. (At least in my long lifetime, such displays of disrespect for the president have never previously occurred.)

In the Senate, the GOP blocked the President’s initiatives with a record number of threatened filibusters. Republicans also blocked a record number of administrative appointments and a record number of nominees for federal courts. And Obama’s most recent nominee to the Supreme Court has been waiting for a vote for a record length of time as a result of the GOP attitude that, with nearly a year left in office, Obama was to be considered a “lame duck.”

There have been a record number of conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama, including the lunacy surrounding the military exercise known as Jade Helm. There have been claims that he would declare martial law or, worse, declare Sharia law. Conservatives have claimed that he is a secret Muslim at the same time they have accused him of following a radical Christian pastor. They blamed him for the national debt, for shipping jobs overseas, for abandoning Iraq (even though our departure was negotiated by the Bush administration) and the creation of ISIS.

They accused him of coddling terrorists; of selling out Israel by negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear program; of bowing to foreign leaders; of “selling out” to the communist Castro regime by normalizing relations with Cuba. They accused him of failing to secure our borders despite a record number of arrests and deportations. And, for the first time in US history, the GOP Congress invited a world leader (Netanyahu) to speak to a joint session without following protocol and going through the executive branch and the State Department.

Conservatives have circulated false emails and social media memes that falsely claim that Obama ordered crosses removed from military cemeteries, banned prayer at the military academies, and worse. They have compared the Obamas to gorillas. They have boldly stated that the First Lady is transgender and called for the Obama’s beautiful daughters to be raped.

At the same time, conservatives have not given Obama any credit for the good things he has done. They would have you believe that he only got Osama bin Laden based on previous efforts by the Bush administration. They have not credited him for trying to nominate a record number of members of the opposing party to his cabinet. They have not credited him for saving the US auto industry. They have not credited him for arresting the precipitous slide of our economy or for policies that have caused the stock markets to soar to record highs. They have not credited him for cutting the national deficit faster than any previous president. They have not credited him for preventing health insurance companies from exempting people for pre-existing conditions. And, instead of congratulating him for making health care available to millions of Americans, they have voted to repeal “Obamacare” dozens of times.

They have called President Obama the “food stamp” president, the “Imperial” president, the anti-gun president, a socialist, a fascist, and a n***er. They have blamed him for the gang violence in Chicago and violence against the police. They even blame him for the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Finally, in a stunning show of hypocrisy, they actually have the chutzpah to blame him for increasing racism in the US! And the presumptive GOP presidential nominee who should never again be named is running on the slogan “Make American Great Again” – a dog whistle call to racists that may as well say “Make America White Again.”

Trump And GOP Evangelicals Versus The Founding Fathers.

It’s difficult for me to write anything that places the Founding Fathers and Donald Trump in the same sentence or even on the same planet. But I cannot let stand the Donald’s unconstitutional call for excluding Muslims from our nation. Nor can I ignore his recent pandering to evangelicals who claim that the Founders intended the US to be a Christian nation. Somehow, he has convinced evangelicals that he will protect their ability to “practice their religion in the public square”; to discriminate; to use government to force their beliefs on others. Their embrace of Trump is especially humorous given the fact that he seemingly considers himself a deity, and that he so obviously worships at the altars of fame, power and money.

Fortunately, there is no need for me to compose my thoughts on the confluence of religion and government. I can rely on much more authoritative sources – the Founders themselves.

General George Washington, hero of the Revolution and the nation’s first president:
“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated.” – letter to Edward Newenham

“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.” – letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore

“… the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” – letter to Touro Synagogue

“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” – letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia

John Adams, revolutionary leader and the nation’s 2nd president:
“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” – A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” – 1797 Treaty of Tripoli

James Madison, “Father of the Constitution”, author of the Bill of Rights and the nation’s 4th president:
“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.” – A Memorial and Remonstrance

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing [sic] that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” – letter to Edward Livingston

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” – letter objecting to the use of government land for churches

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s 3rd president:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” – letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” — letter to Alexander von Humboldt

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.” – letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper

”I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” – letter to Elbridge Gerry

“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” – Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, political theorist and diplomat:
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” – letter to Richard Price

James Monroe, Founding Father and the nation’s 5th president:
“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” – First Inaugural Address

Thomas Paine, Founding Father, political theorist and philosopher:
“We do not admit the authority of the church with respect to its pretended infallibility, its manufactured miracles, its setting itself up to forgive sins. It was by propagating that belief and supporting it with fire that she kept up her temporal power.”

Other Founders:
“Congress has no power to make any religious establishments.” – Roger Sherman in Congress, 1789

“Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression.” – Oliver Wolcott at the Connecticut Ratifying Convention

“The legislature of the United States shall pass no law on the subject of religion.” – Charles Pinckney at the Constitutional Convention

“No religious doctrine shall be established by law.” – Elbridge Gerry